I remember as a teenager walking through the grocery store in November and seeing aisle after aisle of Thanksgiving-related merchandise. Décor featuring Pilgrims and turkeys was everywhere.
Just a few decades later, though, it’s hard to find a mention of Thanksgiving in a grocery store – or anywhere else, for that matter. The last clearance bins of Halloween candy have scarcely disappeared before they are replaced with tinsel and Christmas lights. Retailers rush headlong into the shopping season, eager to line their pockets with cash offered by materialism-crazed shoppers. And if there is any brief pause given to acknowledge the fourth Thursday in November (for those of us in the United States), it is flippantly referred to as “Turkey Day.”
Instead of Norman Rockwell’s classic depiction of a family gathered around the Thanksgiving table to reflect on their blessings and enjoy each other’s company, Thanksgiving in far too many American homes consists of people crouched around the household altar to the god of sports, worshiping their teams while they curse and get drunk.
It is sobering to read the Apostle Paul’s indictment of a godless society: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:18-21).
What renders man without excuse before God? Knowing God and not glorifying Him as God. That, and one more thing – not giving thanks.
Thanksgiving is an attitude. Believe it or not, the opposite of thankfulness is not just thoughtlessness or selfishness; it’s rebellion. Failing to give God thanks is a refusal to acknowledge that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). It’s a haughty insistence that we are big enough to handle ourselves…that we don’t need anyone’s help. And if we don’t need God, then we don’t have to obey Him. That’s why Paul’s indictment proceeds to detail how reprobate men move from thanklessness to abject perversion.
Being thankful should not be about simply ticking off a list of blessings. Sure we are grateful for the things God has done for us. But the blessings are secondary. The Bible says to praise Him for his mighty acts (Psalm 150), but Psalm 136 says to give thanks unto the Lord because He is good, and because His mercy endures forever!
Those who only thank God for the things He has done for them miss out on the greater truth. God’s blessings are wonderful and are to be appreciated, but they are not the biggest reason we should be thankful. Far greater than a good job, a nice car or house, and healthy bodies is the fact that he has extended mercy to those who did not deserve it. In fact, “it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not” (Lamentations 3:22).
God was kind to me when I was hateful. God was good to me when I was bad to Him. God was merciful to me when I was as guilty as could be. God graciously gave me Heaven when I deserved Hell. If He never gave me a single material blessing, I’d still have more to be thankful for than my limited human vocabulary could ever express.
Bishop Don Johnson summed it up so beautifully: “God is so good to me…I can’t complain.”
This Thursday, keep the main thing the main thing. Don’t celebrate “Turkey Day” – celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Take time to intentionally “give thanks to the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Psalm 136:1).